Friday, June 3, 2011

True Grit (2010) - A remake worth seeing

True Grit (western, drama, adventure)
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Brolin

Paramount Pictures | 2010 | 110 min | Rated PG-13 | Released Jun 07, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French, Portuguese, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese

50GB Blu-ray Disc
Digital copy
DVD copy

The Film 4.5/5

True Grit was nominated for 10 Oscars, but failed to win any. Jeff Bridges was unlikely to win after finally being recognized a year ago, but Roger Deakins (cinematography) and Hailee Steinfeld (supporting actress) were particularly unlucky to lose.

I’m generally not in favor of watching remakes, or Westerns, but this one is worth it. The Coens don’t make bad films. The acting is superb and there’s just the right balance between action, drama and humor.

The story is narrated and told from the viewpoint of Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), a 14-year-old girl who wants to hire someone to catch the man who killed her father. After hearing the qualities of the potential candidates, she approaches Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). He’s a one-eyed drunk with a reputation for getting the job done. Perhaps she wanted someone with the same strength of character as her own?

One of the best scenes in the movie comes early. Mattie argues with a horse trader, wanting compensation for a horse of her father’s stolen while under the trader’s care, as well as a refund for four ponies her father bought. This is where we see that Mattie, although young, is intelligent and capable of looking after her interests. The trader meets most of her demands and is relieved to see her leave.

Cogburn’s character is revealed when he gives evidence in court. It’s clear that he’ll kill if necessary, and that he thinks it’s often necessary. After another negotiation, Mattie secures his services to search for Tom Chaney (Brolin), her father’s killer.

The other main character is LaBoeuf (Damon), a Texas Ranger who has been tracking Chaney for another crime. He wants to team up with Cogburn as both have the same goal, but they are unable to convince Mattie to stay behind and the trio end up together.

The dialogue doesn’t follow that of traditional Westerns. The characters are generally well-spoken and intelligent and don’t use contractions. This has the effect of making the dialogue sound formal and more important. Some of the accents are thick, but you’ll soon get used to it.

After an argument with Cogburn, LaBoeuf departs and leaves Cogburn and Mattie to fend for themselves. They look for shelter and find a shack occupied by two men. Cogburn finds out some valuable information to aid the search and learns that Chaney has joined a gang which is due to arrive at the shack. Cogburn and Mattie hide and wait for them to show up.

LaBoeuf later rejoins the pair and the main action occurs when the trio meets the gang. Mattie proves her worth and both Cogburn and LaBoeuf have important parts to play in the conflict. Cogburn is not always drunk and proves very capable when the situation calls for it.

While not as quirky as other Coen films, True Grit contains plenty of humor. The dialogue is fast and the wits of the main characters are sharp. Each has some memorable lines. There isn’t a huge amount of action. It’s more about the setup and the dynamic between the trio. We see more of the journey than the eventual confrontation. It has the effect of making the story well-rounded and there’s enough background information for us to feel like we know the characters by the end of the movie.

The conclusion jumps forward 25 years and we are shown what happens to the characters. It's a good way to end the story.

Video Quality 5/5
The Texas and New Mexico locations look stunning in this presentation and colors are bright and well-defined. Fine detail is exceptional and you can clearly pick out patterns in the dirt and see individual pieces of straw. Grain is barely visible in the majority of scenes, but there’s no loss of detail. Paramount has delivered a wonderful transfer and I can’t think of a better-looking live action movie.

Audio Quality 5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track also shines. Whether it’s horses galloping, insects, wind or gunfire, everything sounds the way it should. What really impresses me is the depth of sound in quieter scenes. There is so much detail. The excellent dialogue is well-defined and there’s nothing to fault in the audio presentation.

Special Features 3/5

There are just over an hour of additional features on the release and all are in full HD:

Mattie’s True Grit (5:13) – Telling the story of Steinfeld’s audition, her preparation for the role and working with the Coen brothers.

From Bustles to Buckskin – Dressing for the 1880s (8:02) – Interviews with the costume designer and some of the cast.

Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western (4:41) – Explaining the choice of guns used by the main trio.

Re-Creating Fort Smith (11:20) – Showing how the set was put together.

The Cast (5:25) – Interviews with Bridges, Damon, Steinfeld, Brolin and Barry Pepper.

Charles Portis - The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of (30:54) – An extensive look at the career of writer Charles Portis.

Cinematography (2:57) – Roger Deakins talks about some of the shots in the movie.

Trailer (2:33)

There should be an Oscar for best Blu-ray presentation. True Grit would certainly be nominated. If you’re a fan of the film, you’ll be delighted with the whole package. The crew researched the time period thoroughly and the result feels authentic. I would recommend this even if you’re not a fan of the genre.

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